Why we need to look beyond frontrunners in urban climate governance

Published on
May 31, 2017

Last week ENP associate professor Jeroen van der Heijden gave a seminar at the London School of Economics (LSE) entitled ‘Forget urban climate leaders: Why urban climate governance urgently needs to be tailored to laggards, and how it can be done’.

The main theme of the seminar was the development and implementation of voluntary programs for sustainable building and city development across the globe by governments, firms, non-profit organisations, and citizens. These programs target property owners and developers, making them commit voluntarily to achieve higher levels of environmental performance than what is stipulated by law.

In the seminar, Jeroen discussed key findings from a study of 35 such programs in Australia, India, Malaysia, the Netherlands, Singapore, and the USA. He found that program administrators are biased towards attracting urban climate leaders, assuming that once the leaders have committed to these programs and show promising results the laggards will follow. Yet, this oft expected spill-over effect does not materialize in the 35 programs studied. Seeking to draw detailed lessons about this participation gap Jeroen carefully unpacked the programs, following ‘club theory’, ‘urban transformation’ theory, and ‘diffusion of innovations’ theory.

Building on over 200 interviews with stakeholders involved in these programs and a close reading of secondary data he found that the heterogeneity of the property and development sectors (and cities more broadly) makes voluntary programs an ill-suited innovative governance instrument to achieve radical change. He concluded the seminar with suggestions on how such programs might be used in future urban climate governance regimes to yield better results. In part, this requires a different thinking about laggards and the majority market in the property and development sectors.

You can find Jeroen’s presentation here.

A transcript of Jeroen’s presentation is available here.